Last week, we finished with Chapter 1, which was James’ instruction to live like a Christian. This week we start into Chapter 2, which is a continuation of that theme, but now he turns to how they behave within the body of believers. Much of the discussion in Chapter 1 was how we related to the world around us, how we acted in the world.
One of the realities of the Christian community is diversity. What are some differences that can exist among Christians in the same church?
...a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. --Colossians 3:11The diversity described in these verses is really something. Imagine a church where both slaves and slave owners were members, where both Jews and Gentiles - historically hostile to one another were members, where Romans (the conquerors) and locals (the conquered) were members. Now that’s diversity!
In this new life, it doesn't matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile ... barbaric, uncivilized, slave or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. --Colossians 3:11 [NLT]
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. --Galatians 3:28
So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus. --Galatians 3:28 [TEV]
In the passage we are looking at today, James only addresses one factor that makes us different from one another - economics, our financial condition. But the principles he teaches in this passage apply to how we respond to any differences among believers: God wants us to love one another, without prejudice.
James - as he learned it from Jesus - taught a radical view of love. Jesus said:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” --John 13:34-35Jesus taught us to love one another - which is what James is talking about in this passage. But Jesus told us to love one another the way He loves us. That’s very important to remember, because Jesus’ love is very different that the world’s love.
What are some characteristics of the way Jesus loved people?
Someone said, “There is a God and He has an irrational love for people.”
But we need to add to this, “And His plan is to express this love, not only to us, but through us to every person on earth.”
The message of this passage in James is that God wants us to love one another regardless of our differences. What doesn’t matter to God shouldn’t matter to us. Let’s consider what principles God teaches us through James in these verses:
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? --James 2:1-4One principle we see in this passage is that real love, Christ-like love, means we have to learn to see people from God’s perspective. This isn’t easy. The world is constantly trying to shape our view of people.
A great illustration of how the world seeks to shape our view of people is the arbitrary and constantly changing definition of attractiveness, especially for women. Eating disorders, plastic surgery - there are so many indicators in our society of the pressure women feel to meet the world’s definition of beauty. Let me ask you this - was Mother Theresa beautiful? To the world, no. To God, I think so!
Look at who James was talking to here. “Brothers” and “believers”, right? He doesn’t expect this kind of love from the world.
Why do you think he emphasizes the fact that they are “believers in Jesus”? I think the answer is this: Faith in Jesus and favoritism toward people are totally incompatible qualities.
In fact, this is an important and primary theme throughout James’ letter. In addressing all these different issues, James keeps coming back to this truth - the way you live should always match up with what you say you believe.
...in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ... --James 2:1This is the only place in the entire New Testament that this particular phrase is used. Only James described Jesus in exactly this way. Why? James was very familiar with the humanity of Jesus but this phrase emphasizes His deity, His authority over us as Lord and God. James wanted these Christians to understand that the command to love without partiality came from the Lord, from God. James doesn’t emphasize his own authority, instead, he points them to Jesus.
The truth James is emphasizing here is an important one. Is Jesus our friend? Yes, certainly. But He is also our “glorious Lord”, he is God and those things He tells us to do are not just suggestions, but commands that we need to take seriously.
Clearly James says, ...don’t show favoritism. (verse 1)
The command here is very clear.
How would you define or explain what favoritism is?
Webster’s Dictionary has an interesting definition of “favoritism”- “the showing of more kindness to some person or persons than to others”.
Favoritism - is the translation of a long Greek word, prosopolempsia - [pros·o·pol·ape·see·ah]. This word is used most often in the New Testament to describe God - that God does not show favoritism or partiality to anyone. Depending on the version, this word is translated “favoritism” or “partiality”. The NASB usually translates it as “partiality”.
Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality... --Acts 10:34Consider how important this truth about God really is - For one thing, for God to be truly just and righteous, He must be impartial. In Deuteronomy 10:17, we’re told,
For there is no partiality with God. --Romans 2:11
But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) ... --Galatians 2:6
For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. --Deuteronomy 10:17But it’s important for us to understand that the fact that God is impartial does not mean that He is uncaring. In fact, the opposite is true - the fact that God has no favorites means that He loves all of us equally. So when we read about His love for Israel, those passages apply to us as well! Here’s an example:
The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness. --Jeremiah 31:3So when we think of what God says about favoritism, let’s remember how grateful we should be that God Himself is impartial in His attitudes towards us and in His dealings with us.
However, the emphasis here is not on God’s impartiality, but ours. People play favorites all the time. We live with this and experience this throughout our lives.
What are some factors that might cause us to favor one person over another?
We like them, We want something from them, We admire them, We respect them, We consider them pretty or handsome, They have power over us...
This is the world’s way, but Jesus expects His followers to treat people differently. Consider how this verse reads in a couple of different translations:
The New Century Version reads, “Never think some people are more important than others.”
The Today’s English Version [TEV] reads, “You must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance.”
James continues by saying:
For if a man comes into your assembly... --James 2:2“If” - Now James presents a hypothetical situation to illustrate the command. The contrast here is between the rich and the poor.
The word for “assembly” here is sunagoge [soon·a·go·gay] and is usually translated “synagogue”. The fact that James used this word supports the fact that he is writing to Jewish believers and that this letter was written very early in the first century, before the word “church” had become the common term to describe communities of Christians.
...and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” --James 2:3“Special attention” - This is what we’re doing when we show favoritism, we’re paying “special attention” to people. This is especially wrong when based on things that matter to the world but not to Jesus.
“Sit here in a good place” - The wording here seems to suggest that the hypothetical rich man and poor man are visitors. How do we respond to people we don’t know? What factors determine how we treat someone?
...have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? --James 2:4I like the TEV translation of this verse:
Then you are guilty of creating distinctions among yourselves and of making judgments based on evil motives. [TEV]One source of discrimination is labels. Lewis Smedes, in his book, “A Pretty Good Person”, warns that labeling people keeps us from seeing them as God sees them:
“We put labels on people the way designers sew labels on their clothes. And then we let the labels tell us what people are and what they are worth. If we value intelligence in children, we label them as fast learners or slow learners, and the first question we ask...is how he or she is doing at school. If we value money, we label people as well-to-do or poor, and the first thing we wonder about people is how much money they make. If we value physical appearance, we label people as attractive or unattractive, and the first thing we consider is what he or she looks like.
“For instance, in a church group that puts a premium on stable families and lasting marriages, when a woman in that church gets a divorce, the church may label her a divorced woman, and blind itself to her reality, to her pains, to gifts, to her needs... When people come along who are physically disabled, we may label them disabled, and then blind ourselves to the infinite treasure they have to offer us.”
As we read through these verses, remember how Jesus treated people. He is our model. If we want to know what a lack of favoritism looks like, all we have to do is look at how Jesus treated people.
Last week we listed the kinds of people that Jesus showed compassion toward. These were the unlikely people to whom he showed not prejudice, no favoritism against.
2. Real Love Respects God’s People (2:5-7)
Jas 2:5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? --James 2:5-7“Listen...” - This is a great command as we read the Bible. What is our responsibility? It is to listen to God. So much of what we think is wrong; so much of what we hear is wrong. The only sure and certain source of truth is God.
Are you listening to God? Are you reading and reflecting on His Word each day? Are you allowing His Word to shape your thinking, your values, your viewpoints, your choices?
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. --Romans 12:2“...my beloved brothers... ”
The word “beloved” here is agapetos [ag·ap·ay·tos]. It’s from agape, the word for God’s love.
Here again, I’m impressed by how James appeals to these Christians without exerting his own authority or focusing on himself. Instead, he emphasizes his love for these people and his connection to them (they are brothers and sisters in Jesus).
...did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? --James 2:5One of the purposes of this passage is to change the way we think about the poor.
What are some negative perceptions of poor people?
I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)... --Revelation 2:9That’s what James is telling us here as well.
Let me ask you a question - which wealth is most important to you? Are you more focused on the wealth of this world or treasure in heaven? There are many passages that remind us that true wealth is not measured in cash or possessions.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal. --Matthew 6:19-20How does God want us to relate to the poor? There are a couple of things we need to learn here.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints... --Ephesians 1:18
Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. --1 Timothy 6:18-19
1. Real Love Reflects God’s Perspective
2. Real Love Respects God’s People
Next week we will continue with this section, to look at
3. Real Love Is Rooted In God’s Precepts
4. Real Love Reveals God’s Pity (Mercy)
Reread James Chapter 2. Get a feel for the passion of James’ words and try to understand his message from his perspective. Then see how it applies to you in your daily life.